Sunday, 3 December 2006

Oogah Chukka

During a conversation about training and showing, a friend, who uses reward-based training methods, asked me why I have reverted to the Neanderthal methods of the past. At least she only asked; others have been more aggressive. So, for benefit of all my friends -- former and otherwise -- here's why:

I'll probably never compete, but I'd like walking my dogs to be more togetherness than tug of war. I'd like to be able to call them and have them come because I said so, not because they're tired, anyway, and have run out of things to do. I'd like to be able to walk in town without the general population having to make way for my dogs's "quickest point from A to B" trajectory and their sudden lunges sideways to follow up on a good scent.

I've got Chows: the original hard-to-train dogs. Almost any breeder will tell you they are untrainable. I mean how many Chows do you see competing in shows? To quote Betty Fisher (So Your Dog Isn't Lassie): their mental well-being is not dependent on my happiness. Unfortunately, the conclusion she draws from this (treats as payment) doesn't work for a dog that isn't interested in food. Their interest in treats, when it exists at all, exists only as far as the nose will reach; we do not move for food. (And, even if we accept the food, we spit it on the ground, examine it for several minutes, sniff, push it with our nose, pick it up, lick, spit. . . We have to check carefully for poison, all of which is a considerable interruption of the training process.)

Now, after 13 years of Chow ownership, voices at the edge of the training universe have begun to suggest to me that my main problem in achieving even a modicum of obedience from my dogs is that I've been going about it the wrong way. Chows are motivated by self-preservation and physical comfort more than anything currently popular in the training world. In other words, the clicker isn't doing it. In a sally around the internet, I happened upon the respected trainer and competitor, Margot Woods. She started out with Chows. She gave them up for Dobermans when she decided on horses for courses, so to speak.

Well, I love my Chows more than I love obedience, so I'm going to try it the old-fashioned way. Since my dogs are so difficult, I'm going to do it according to Koehler (with one or two minor exceptions: It wasn't Van-Ly's fault she got tangled around the tree; it was mine and I untangled her) and I'm doing it according to the book. So I read the chapters over and over until I've got them straight in my head and then we do them as specified. I figure it's like music: you don't go off into flights of fancy composing 32 Variations for Piano in C Minor, until you understand what C-minor is, can play the piano, understand musical forms, and can work yourself back to the harmonic denouement. Of course, it helps to be Beethoven.

In Games Your Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship For Women, Betty Lehan Harragan said that if you weren't aiming to be Chairman of the Board, you'd never know what next move should be. You may never make Chairman of the Board, but you'll get a lot further than with a lesser goal. When Van-Ly knows how to heel properly, she won't always have to do it, but I hope she'll do it if I want her to. If I can't teach her to heel, how will I ever teach her weave poles?

Weave polls? These dog lists have been the ruination of me.

1 comment:

  1. You go girl! You are going to have the best trained chows of france, and be the envy of everyone else!

    Keep up the great work.